Carving a niche in a man’s game

Carving a niche in a man’s game

MASERU – For most people Sundays are reserved for church and are a day when people gather at their various places of worship to give praise, thanks and ask for blessings.
For Kick4Life football star Thato Sentje, however, Sundays were different.
Growing up, Sentje was always attracted to sports and instead of church, her Sundays were reserved for what she enjoyed the most – playing football.
Sentje would leave home early in the morning as if she was headed for church but her destination was the football ground where she played for a Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) women’s team that was known as Makanyane.

With parents who were hell-bent against football, Sentje felt there was no way she could disclose her real whereabouts.
As a child growing up, she always found herself in the company of boys playing football in the streets and it is no surprise years later that the 27-year-old has few friends outside football.

Sentje joined her first organised club in 2009 at the age of 16 as part of the original group of players that formed the Kick4Life Ladies team.
Along with ‘Maphoka Ramokoatsi, Remaketse Ramohomane and Nthona Ramphie, Sentje is one of a select core of players that still remain with

Kick4Life and have been through the club’s decade-long growth.
Today, Kick4Life Ladies is one of Lesotho’s foremost women’s teams having produced stars such as Boitumelo Rabale and Senate Letsie who are now both shining in the United States.

Kick4Life have also consistently challenged for the Women’s Super League title since the local top-flight for women’s football was formed in 2014.
Although they are yet to win the league, the Old Europa club have finished second in the league for the past two years behind Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) and, as Sentje meets with thepost, she believes Kick4Life will soon get over the hump and be champions.

Sentje is dressed in her National team attire and has a bubbly personality.
She is living her dream and has come a long way from playing in the dusty streets.
“The main challenge for me growing up is that I was being judged that I love boys’ games too much and it didn’t sit well with me,” Sentje says.
“I was never close with the girls; I was close to the people I was playing football with, so I would go to the ground and then go back home.”

Today, Sentje is a regular member of Lesotho’s national women’s team, Mehalalitoe.
Currently, the side is training at Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena in preparation for a pair of friendly matches in Botswana on Saturday and Sunday.
Sentje specialises as a central defensive midfielder for Kick4Life but mostly plays centreback for the national team.

She says she loves playing anywhere, as long the coach demands it.
The versatile Sentje began as a striker before switching to defence and she says it was Kick4Life Ladies coach Puseletso Mokhosi who moved her into midfield.
That’s the position she has now played for the longest time and she says it is her favourite.

“I started as a striker at Kick4Life; I was changed to a centreback position when we were playing in the women’s lower division league before the Super League was formed,” Sentje explains.
“Puseletso Mokhosi arrived and she switched me to the midfield and I was the anchor, and that’s the position I am still playing at club level even now.

However, for the national team I play centre-half, I am a utility player. When were we are short somewhere I slot in a fullback position,” she adds.
“When you play at the back you are the last line of defence and any mistake could directly lead to a goal and one has to be switched on at all times, keep the shape and always be compact.”

Sentje is someone who never shies away from challenges and pressure. She never hides on the pitch and always wants the ball.
She says midfield, which she calls the engine of the team, is the perfect place for her. It is where she thrives because there is always pressure to perform and be on top of your game, Sentje explains.
“It’s a mind-set really,” she adds.

“When you are assigned a certain position it’s just a matter of you being switched on and playing your best football, it’s just that for us women you think about it too much.”
“It helps to be able to play in different positions because you may find that one of your teammates is struggling and if you play more than three positions I think you are fine.”

One of Sentje’s main aims this season is finally getting her hands on the Women’s Super League crown and Kick4Life are locked in an exciting league chase with LDF and FC Stoko.
“We are third now, we want to move up the table, whether we are going to be second or first we will see,” Sentje says.

“LDF is very strong, sometimes we lose focus. LDF trains every day and they are together all the time while for us it’s a mixture; some (players) are still at school and sometimes only a few turn up for training.”
That is in fact one of the main challenges facing women’s football.

Despite the Lesotho Football Association’s (LEFA) efforts to revive the women’s game, it still lags behind the men’s football in terms of following and financial support.

Sentje says the women’s game needs help from companies to help the flourishing talent around the country.
“We need support, we need sponsors for football to grow and be marketed and we also need media coverage,” Sentje says.
“If the media is there the people will know about (women’s football). In some places there are people who are still not aware of women’s football but it is through the media that they can know.”

Such a change would undoubtedly inspire more young girls to emulate Sentje whose dedication is an example to follow.
If Sentje is not playing, she can always be found at Kick4Life’s football centre where she coaches life skills for the club’s Girls United programme which tours schools and mentors youths between the ages of 13 and 19.

In a male dominated game, women are trying to find their feet.
Sentje says she encourages anyone who loves football to play the game and not fall for the stereotypes that come with women’s football.
She says one does not need to be of a certain sexual orientation to join and enjoy football. It is for everyone.

“Football is male dominated but I say to women: let’s play football, don’t be scared,” Sentje underlines.
“There are lesbians in football, it is true, but if you aren’t it doesn’t mean you can’t play; after all, your sexual orientation is your choice. There are straight women in football clubs. Some are married and they are enjoying themselves.

Tlalane Phahla

 

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